Can You Explain My Wife to Me?
by Rabbi Aron Moss
I'm wondering if you can explain my wife to me. She complained last night that I am not helpful around the house. She claims that yesterday I came home and plonked myself on the couch to relax, leaving her to look after the kids and dinner and everything else. When I pointed out to her that I actually offered to help, she says it wasn't sincere. I am at a loss. What more can I do? Is it my fault if she ignores my offer to help?
You think you are being sincere. And you probably are. But sometimes what you say and what your wife hears are miles apart. You need to appreciate how your words come across. The message she hears may be the opposite of what you meant.
So when you say:
"If you need any help I am happy to help you."
You thought that was being nice. But your wife hears:
"I am going to the couch to chill. If you really desperately need me, then you will have to come and disturb my peace and I will reluctantly come and cut up a few vegetables like a martyr."
Not a very convincing offer. Even though you didn't say it those words, between the lines you implied a willingness to help, but not an eagerness. You are not presenting yourself as being at her service, but rather as not opposed to doing your bit if it is absolutely necessary.
Your wife does not feel supported by this offer because it is passive. You are making her feel as if you are doing her a favour, and she should be forever indebted to you for your heroic gesture of bothering to get off the couch to cut up a salad. No wonder she doesn't feel you are sincerely offering to help her.
Here's a different way of saying it:
"OK, I am here for you. Tell me what I can do to help."
The words are only slightly different. But the meaning is worlds apart. Here you are making yourself available, putting yourself at her service. There is no 'if', you are not requiring her to interrupt you, you are there for her, at her beck and call ready for instructions. When you offer help in this way, the offer is received graciously because it was presented sincerely. Let's call it an active offer, rather than a passive one.
We learn the idea of active offering from an event that happened over 3000 years ago, the Jewish people's acceptance of the Torah at Mt Sinai. G-d wanted to give them His laws, but before they even heard the first commandment, the Israelites committed themselves to fulfilling His will. They said Naaseh Venishma - "We will do whatever You want from us. Now let's hear what it is that You want. Without knowing what You are about to ask of us, the answer is already yes."
I have no doubt that you truly want to support your wife. So try expressing that in a way that she will hear it. Actively offer your help so she feels you are not just there for the salad, you are there for her.